The longtime leader of the Tampa Bay area’s Goodwill Industries branch, R. Lee Waits, will retire March 1 and hand over control to his chief deputy.
Waits, 72, said he will be able to spend more time with his wife and plans to travel but otherwise hasn’t planned out what he’ll do in retirement. He leaves behind a charity that is far bigger than when he took over 23 years ago and appears financially sound.
Waits said his commitment to Goodwill’s main cause, helping the developmentally disabled find work, made it hard to leave.
“I wouldn’t have stayed here as long as I have” without that mission, he said. “This has probably been the hardest decision I’ve ever made.”
Goodwill Industries-Suncoast Inc., which serves Hillsborough, Pinellas and several surrounding counties, announced Waits’ departure Thursday. He will step down as chief executive officer and president of the charity and hand those roles to Chief Operating Officer Deborah Passerini.
Waits has been with Goodwill for 37 years and spent the last 23 in control of the St. Petersburg-based charity. His tenure has seen the charity’s iconic thrift stores grow glitzier — the charity has been holding wedding dress sales — and more sophisticated. The stores now encourage drive-thru donations, allowing people to drop off their excess goods quicker.
Since Waits took over in 1990, the charity’s revenue has risen from $11.2 million to $61.8 million, largely from increased sales of donated merchandise.
Goodwill Industries-Suncoast and Waits have endured some criticism, including over his compensation.
The charity’s financial forms show he made $440,197 in 2010, the last year for which figures were available. His compensation included base pay of $308,015, a nearly $80,000 bonus and retirement and other benefits.
This year, the state Department of Corrections faulted the security at Goodwill’s Largo work-release center. One inmate at the facility is accused of killing two men in St. Petersburg, and a second inmate is accused of raping a girl. Both inmates were away from Goodwill’s residential facility at the time of the alleged incidents.
The charity is lobbying the state to provide money and equipment to better track the inmates when they’re working or heading to work.